By the Seaside: Places to Visit on the South Coast
Looking for a sunny UK break? Here are the best places to visit on the South Coast.
Some of England’s cheeriest seaside spots and most attractive sandy beaches line the South Coast. The question is, which one should you choose for a summer staycation? There’s cool Hastings, Unesco Biosphere Reserve the Isle of Wight, or Lyme Regis, a paradise for both fossil-hunters and food lovers. Read on for Plum Guide’s definitive list of the best places to visit on the South Coast of England.
While you’ll likely be leaving any mention of the newer down-at-heel part of Hastings off your postcards, the old town will give you a seaside break to brag about. Definitely stay in this area, since its quaint historic buildings are populated with independent delis, boutiques, ice cream shops and cosy English pubs – as well as a few tarted-up drinking holes that bring a slice of dark-walled Brooklyn style to the British seaside. Take one of the funiculars uphill for spectacular views: the East Hill funicular goes to Hastings Country Park, West Hill brings you to the castle. And, finally, explore more of Hastings’ modern side in the Hastings Contemporary gallery on the seafront, and the pier: a Riba Stirling Prize-winning timber reimagining of the former Victorian structure.
If Devon to you is simple pleasures like eating ice cream and building sandcastles in a beautiful setting, head to Salcombe. It’s part of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so it should top any list of places to visit on the South Coast. A stay in Salcombe means access to plenty of beaches, from quiet coves to vast swathes of sand: North Sands is great for barefoot beach days, while South Sands has you covered for water sports. Take the Sands Ferry if you’re after a boat trip, or there’s the option to learn a craft: Salcombe Gin Distillery runs gin-making sessions in its converted boathouse, overlooking the estuary. It’s one of the world’s only distilleries you can access by water (welcome to the world of unneccessary-but-lovely accolades). Oh and Salcombe Dairy is one of the best for ice cream, with its pleasingly named Salcombe Mud ice cream.
With its stylish seafront, pretty gardens and sandy beaches, Torquay is a classic stop on the English riviera (yes, England has a riviera). It’s also the birthplace of crime writer Agatha Christie. As well as being a big selling point for the local tourist board, the Agatha Christie literary trail is well worth exploring. Highlights include a display at Torquay Museum, including Poirot’s desk and other props from the TV adaptations, and her holiday home, Greenway, where she set two of her detective novels (its boathouse set the scene for one of her fictional murders).
Looking for places to visit on the South Coast that offer a bit of peace and quiet? In pretty Penzance, you’re poised for a slower pace of life – perfect for wandering around the harbour town’s gardens, galleries and museums. Perhaps you’d like a surf lesson, or a whale watching trip. Amateur Attenboroughs in need of their next nature immersion can head out on a boat from Penzance with Marine Discovery in search of seals, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds (or humpback whales, minke whales, basking sharks or leatherback turtles if they’re really lucky). You’re also well positioned for windswept walks around the coves and wildflower-thick grassland at Land’s End, England’s most south-westerly point – surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean.
Poole is your place for a cultured coastal break with a dash of history. Think morning water sports followed by a trip to nearby Corfe Castle in the afternoon and a show at the Lighthouse arts centre in the evening. But do make the most of the beaches – especially the swanky Sandbanks Beach. It’s popular, but for good reason: the golden sands and calm waters have won it the Blue Flag award for more than 30 years and counting. Book into Plum Guide’s Sandy Steps, which has direct beach access, and pretend you live here alongside the Sandbanks upper-crust full-time.
With quaint tea rooms and ice cream shops populating the town itself, and a stellar food scene: chef Mark Hix is from the area, runs his Food Rocks festival every September and has recently opened the HIX Oyster & Fish Truck. The River Cottage HQ is near here too. The ‘pearl of Dorset’ is also known for its Jurassic-era cliffs and fossil-hunting opportunities (ideal for occupying any children in tow, while you enjoy superlative seafood). You’re also well positioned for exploring the rest of the Jurassic Coast from here, including star attraction Durdle Door (also known as the South Coast’s most photographed natural spot). There's plenty more things to do in Dorset where that came from.
Isle of Wight
After checking into your Plum Guide home on the Isle of Wight – The Colour of Glass, with sea views plus quirky wood panelling and stained glass design accents should fit the bill – you’ll want to explore this southerly isle’s finer points. Think golden sands, chalky white cliffs, clear waters and plenty of wildlife, since the island is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Tennyson Down, which stretches up to the cliff edge, and Ventnor Botanic Garden are both good places to start. Or challenge yourself with a surfing lesson or a cycle around the whole island.